In the recent past, Nigeria has made a few attempts at nation branding, albeit with not so discernible levels of success achieved. From the ‘Heart of Africa’ project to the ‘Good people, Great Nation’ concept, the search for a strong national branding platform that could greatly resonate with Nigeria’s internal and external publics cut the picture of a convoluted journey. In spite of the huge efforts, the harvest has not been admirable: There continue to be many more gloomy stories about Nigeria– some not even told yet. All these give the nation long hours of negative TV film footages and sound bites, as well as miles of negative commentaries in the print media.
In the last few years, there have been concerted efforts by stakeholders on the need to promote Nigeria’s tourism potentials in order to diversify the revenue generation base of the country and avoid over dependence on oil and gas, in addition to conveying some form of positive news about the nation to the international community. Today however, the potentials inherent in the nation’s culture and tourism sector as a strong unifying factor and nation branding platform now appear to have been discovered, thankfully through a forward looking initiative involving the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation and a group of Nigerian private and corporate individuals. This has given birth to what has now come to be known as the Nigeria, Our Heritage Project.
The first bold step took place in July when a stakeholder, Mr Fidelis Ekwunife Anosike, unveiled the ‘Nigeria, Our Heritage’ (NOH) project in Abuja, in collaboration with the ministry of tourism, culture and national orientation, and fully endorsed by the federal ministry of foreign affairs and Howard University Alumni Association. The NOH project is proudly supported by over 15 companies, some of which include the Nigeria Export Import (NEXIM) Bank, Benue State, Niger State, Ekiti State, Heritage Bank, Eko Atlantic, DSTV, Multichoice, CNN, DAAR communication, NERC and BGL, among others.
On Monday, 5th August 2014, an evening of entertainment centered on the centennial of Nigeria’s commonwealth, took place at the John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts Concert Hall in Washington D.C. The event was organized by the Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation to unveil the international leg of the “Nigeria: Our Heritage” project. Present at the event were President Goodluck Jonathan, the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Nigeria’s Ambassador to USA, a few Nigerian and American government and political personalities as well as several Nigerian celebrities, notably Don Jazzy, Rita Dominic, Ali Nuhu, Davido, Flavour, Tiwa Savage, Tee Billz, Masterkraft, Tola Odunsi, Leslie Kasumba, Di’Ja, Lola Ogunnaike, Obi Asika, Hakeem Kae-Kazim and Ubi Franklin, among others.
In his goodwill message at the event, President Jonathan promised to support the initiators of the project in the noble task of overhauling Nigeria’s image globally and promoting the country’s tourism and cultural heritage which he said was aimed at wealth creation as well as securing international trust for foreign investment. While noting that the project would celebrate the rich cultural inheritance and vast economic endowment of Nigeria, he regretted that Nigeria had come under global media conspiracy that brought humiliation for the country.
In his address, the minister of tourism, culture and national orientation, Edem Duke, while announcing his decision to adopt the project under the federal government’s policy on Public Private Partnership (PPP), expressed optimism that the NOH would support and uphold the cardinal principles of his ministry and further called for an increased partnership with Nigerian companies, the media and government in a bid to lead the race towards revamping Nigeria as an investment destination in the world.
“We, therefore, seek for the partnership of companies which are proud of Nigeria, the media, local and international agencies, Nigerians in Diaspora, institutions of government and state governments to be part of this project by identifying with our avowed commitment to lead the race towards revamping the global dignity of Nigeria as an investment destination.
“We believe that time has come for the private sector and notable Nigerians from all walks of life to take the front row in shaping the future of Nigeria economically, socially and otherwise because all over the world, government makes policies and create enabling environment for growth but the private sector is the substructure that shapes the economy, “ Duke stated.
This Washington D.C. event, dubbed ‘an evening of entertainment’, marked the first plank of a novel approach to the country’s holistic national branding project.
Another plank of NOHP is ‘Nigeria: Our Heritage– The Past. The Present. The Promise.’ which is a compendium of Nigeria’s heritage (that hopefully would include music, dance, costumes, food), historical sites, values (rites and usages) and natural assets. The book will be in hardcopy of 100 limited copies – to be distributed to partner organizations and high profile individuals – and an online version on various web platforms.
An annual road show will take Nigeria’s ancient and contemporary arts abroad for appreciation by the international community. And a video documentary series, ‘Fascinating Nigeria’ that will visually convey, in motion, Nigeria’s rich heritage and scenic sites, will be distributed to an international audience, hopefully on global media. The private initiative will endow an annual ‘National Heritage Award’ to identify and reward its partners by presentation, for decoration, to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The maiden edition of ‘Innovate Nigeria Conference and Expo’ is in the planning stage. It should attract international “innovators, inventors and designers” who will share their creative experiences with their Nigerian counterparts. This should help Nigerians comply with globally acceptable standards of practice and guarantee global patronage for their locally produced products and services. The gender-sensitive initiative will hold a ‘Women of Influence Conference’, an advocacy platform to advance the interest of women and the girl-child, with Oprah Winfrey as one of the resource persons. The group also plans to establish women academies across West Africa, to enhance regional integration and security.
The ‘National Heritage Forum’ will gather stakeholders and partners to “review, articulate and implement protocols on the strategic positioning of Nigeria’s heritage.” By year end, there will also be the ‘Next Century Forum’ that will become an annual platform to avail Nigerian students and graduates of 40 top universities in the world opportunities to network with top Nigerian corporate organizations and companies, to create synergy and fluid integration between town and gown.
Of the NOH Project, an enthusiastic Professor George Obiozor who is the Chairman of the Project’s Governing Board says: “Nigeria: Our Heritage Project is conceived as an enduring movement to engender a positive global perception change for Nigeria, such that Nigeria would be enabled internally and externally, to realize her full potentials.” The project, he added “will be activated by 100 proudly Nigerian public and private organizations that will catalyze the strategic repositioning of Nigeria as a nation.” And this seems to be paying off already, judging by the number and caliber of the individuals and organisations that have already lined up behind the project.
Jim O’Neil, who coined the acronym ‘BRICS,’ for emerging markets economies, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, has projected that Nigeria may be one of the 13 biggest world economies by 2050. Obiozor and his group hope Nigeria’s economy would rank in the top five by 2114, when Nigeria would be celebrating its second centenary. It’s good that a private initiative like the NOHP is planning big for Nigeria’s future. If you aim for the skies, you might hit the treetop.
The spirit of Nigeria’s centenary, swirling in the air, should galvanize and give hope to the people of Nigeria. It should put cynical Nigerians back to work again. One good way to get Nigerians mobilized is to tie the national branding cause to things that appeal to and define the uniqueness of the peoples that make up the Nigerian nation state. This is not talking about ‘stomach infrastructure,’ but creating enabling environments for every Nigerian to use as leverage for individual economic prosperity and cultural or nationalistic pride. After all, the home front is important. If this project is handled in a non partisan way, it could mobilize the entire country for peace, prosperity and the good life.
In the words of President Jonathan at the Washington ‘evening of entertainment’, “The project is a message to every Nigerian that we have a duty to ensure that Nigeria is not only what it should be but what others see it as. We have to be holistic in the way we look at things, especially our culture”.
In all, NOHP appears to have brought fresh hope and renewed optimism that Nigeria can get its branding act together, after all. However, what needs to be seen is how much success can come out of this latest concerted effort.